Lake Ontario has gone still, reflecting the city.
The beach is hushed with the open secret.
Young children and dogs see the shapes of the letters
Of the signs telling us to keep our distance.
Looking south, if the day was clearer,
I might see the shadow outline of New York State,
And hallucinate the wheeze of ventilators
In the swirl of open air that is the border.
My partner plays balance beam on bleached driftwood
With our seven year-old.
She mirrors his overflowing age,
And shows him how we come from each other.
Our four year-old commands his nana
To stand six feet back;
He holds up a stop-sign hand and grins
As if the world were a traffic game.
But she can’t help herself from reaching for him.
The generations want to collapse into each other.
Some of us will never understand
How this is suddenly dangerous.
My own grandmothers no longer have bodies.
Eyes closed, I can fall into their talced arms.
They breathe out soft, clipped stories
Of the war, rationing, polio, standing on the road
To sell sandwiches to truck drivers.
Hanging out laundry in the attic.
Of a baby born premature and kept warm
In a cooling bread oven,
And making Sunday dinners for twelve on a single dollar.
As a child I saw their eyes gleam and took it for devotion,
But missed the spark of holding me to account:
“How will you make good on all of this?”
I missed the winces of pain as they shifted
From hip to hip in the twilight armchairs.
Neither had a place to name their feelings,
Nor, perhaps, anyone to hear them.
I’m ashamed for the time I spent mistaking
Silence and class dignity for avoidance.
What were all those books for? The wandering?
Why am I only learning to garden now?
Why did anyone give us credit cards?
Why did I always find something to do
To keep me hovering above this moment of water?
How did it happen that I was distracted so often
From the most fragile, vanishing things?
Why did I pry these minutes apart from each other
As if my life resided between them,
Gazing at imaginary problems,
As if these grains weren’t the continuity I sought?
None of the scriptures or poems prepared me,
Or maybe all of them did.
Like the one where the son asks the father
“Tell me about the innermost self.”
And the father says to the son,
“Like the salt mingled in ocean water,
You are that, you are that.”
Today the son would ask
“Tell me what the virus is.”
Because religion left me nothing but kind guesses,
I would say: “It’s not quite alive, but it can die.
It doesn’t know chest pain, or the feeling of drowning.
It thrives when it is within us.
It makes us aware of each other.”
I had a friend who died in his car
After swallowing a little white pill.
He was a Buddhist who helped and didn’t help people
In relation to how much he marvelled and suffered.
He taught me the phrase, “trouble and joy.”
He’s sitting with me here, closer than six feet,
We talk about impermanence, which he no longer has to test.
I murmur “I can’t believe you’re missing this”,
Meaning children, a partner, the virus.
I hope he ate that pill like those monks
Who pretend to eat the last plum on earth.
He was obsessed with the resonance between
The suffering self and the suffering world, and
I still can’t tell whether this is perceptive or grandiose.
White men can be both as we fantasize
About helping more than we help.
But sitting here now, body and ghost,
Perhaps we waste less time.
The seven year-old comes in for a hug.
He’s too big for my lap. I’ll be getting smaller.
My wife continues balancing practice, for her own joy.
The light changes. It doesn’t matter how.
I’m grateful I didn’t bring my phone.
Sitting back on the kitchen counter,
It fills up with exponentials:
infection rates, grief, financial ruin, platitudes.
If I had brought it, I may have thrown it,
To skip on the glassy water like a mute black stone.
“What does anxiety feel like?”
I’ll ask the question in groups beginning to study Ayurveda. The first round of answers rolls out:
Worried. Concerned. Apprehensive. Uneasy. Fearful. Agitated. Nervous.
They’re all great words. But, I’ll suggest, as psychological synonyms, they might not get us any closer to what anxiety really feels like.
What does “worried” feel like, after all? How does it feel similar to or different from “anxiety”? Continue reading “What Do You Feel? Ayurveda and Becoming the Poet of Yourself”
“Astrology developed into a strange discipline: a mixture of careful observation, mathematics and record-keeping, but rife with fuzzy thinking and pious fraud. Nevertheless: it survived and flourished. Why? Because it seems to lend a cosmic significance to the routine of our daily lives. It pretends to satisfy our longing to feel personally connected to the universe.” – Carl Sagan
The late Carl Sagan is spot-on here, but he left a few tasty ingredients out of the astrology stew. He left out poetry. Narrative acumen. The psychological intuition that comes out of watching people as carefully as one must watch the planets to predict their movements. He left out the burning desire to give consolation and express empathy through the correlation of cosmic and character patterns. And: the yearning for this consolation to come quickly, when research and science take so much effort. Sagan omitted the inscrutable moments of intimacy that can occur between two people as they consider the aspirations and anxieties of life, through a horoscope, darkly. His omissions are to be expected: he never practiced astrology. But I did. Continue reading ““Vedic” Astrology: A Strange and Lovely Art from Time Gone By, Rife with Tender Bullshit Today”
Initiation of mantra comes through hearing alone. Hearing comes through space element. The elders say that the lowliest villager passing through space by the temple door who happens to hear a mantra is initiated by its rhythm and from then on is beholden to its meaning.
(When the elders become the eldest they sit at the temple door and listen to the songs of children and are themselves initiated anew.) Continue reading “mantra”
The songbird sings from his syrinx, at the bottom of his trachea, where the two bronchi become one. It is a hollow space framed by reverberant cartilage and smooth muscle tympanum. There are no chords to split and differentiate the breath. The tongue does not direct the sound, nor are there teeth for sibilance, nor labia for nuance. Continue reading “syrinx and systole, first three fragments”
In the face of the most difficult etiology, cancer, Ayurveda offers four overlapping modes of reflection and support: the descriptive, the preventative, the purificatory, and the supportive/palliative. Overlaps occur because the descriptive in itself has preventative power, while palliation, in turn, will always involve the purification of root causes, even when the momentum of the disease is overwhelming. “Palliation” does not necessarily refer to a final-illness context in Ayurveda: it also generally means “improvement of imbalancing factors”, or, as presented below, it can be thought of as intelligent dietary support during the radical interventions of chemotherapy and radiation. In true final-illness circumstances, all of these modes transcend their physiological focus, to become tools for a celebrative and reconciliatory inquiry into life. The doctor doesn’t give up, but she does change the medicine – from the specific to the expansive.
This brief presentation will provide a basic introduction to these four modes. Continue reading “an ayurvedic view of cancer”